little surprises

When I was a kid, my sister and I attempted watching a film version of Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women. It was whatever version was out in the ‘90s, and I have the impression that it was aired on TV quite regularly (not every month or something, but every so often it was on again).

It is definitely possible that my memory does not serve me correctly on this, but my first attempt to watch this probably did not last beyond ten minutes. To be fair, I would have been quite young, and the storyline was unlikely to have interested me much. After this, I don’t think I would have gone past a second or third attempt.

Fast-forward through twenty years or so (give or take), and I never had any intention of reading the book either, such was my unfavourable (albeit prematurely formed) opinion of the story. At least, that’s where things stood at the end of last year.

As some of you would know, there was another film adaptation of Little Women released late last year. Of course, I was in no hurry to watch it, but it did spark conversation that led me to buying the book at the January Lifeline Bookfest, and I have since finished reading it.

My first surprise was that the book is not very long. For some reason (maybe because the film of my memory seemed long and tedious), I had the impression that it was quite a hefty tome. Not the case, it seems.

My second surprise was that not all the characters were insufferably prim and boring. Amongst all the sermonising and moralising, there was Jo March, a seemingly very progressive character considering the times in which the story is set.

Meg and Amy seem too caught up with vanities and luxuries and wanting things, so I was not overly interested in their stories. Their life lessons in the book may be valuable to some, but not so much for me. On the other hand, Beth, mild and gentle, although a step closer to my own nature, was perhaps too weak and timid for me to feel very invested in her either.

Jo, however, is full of energy and vigour, and is in her element when she can exercise mind and body. Initially at least, she opposes the idea of having to grow up, get married, and all the usual thing. The novel opens with her lying on the rug on the floor, apparently without regard for the conventional decorum of the time. Throughout the novel, she is often out playing with Laurie, running about or climbing trees. In short, she is someone my younger self would’ve quite related to.

Since it is highly unlikely I ever watched more than ten minutes of the movie, I had no idea what Little Women was about. And despite my preconceptions (or misconceptions), I’d like to think I went into this reading with an open mind and no biases. Otherwise, why read it at all, right?

So, yes, I was pleasantly surprised, but, even so, I don’t think this is a book that I will re-read, and I’m not sure I’m any more inclined to re-attempt watching any of the films. Of course, I don’t mean this in a negative way: There are many books that I say I want to re-read “some day” but will probably never get around to doing so. It is more to say that there are other books I’ve enjoyed more.

Objectively speaking, irrespective of the actual story, the writing was not as sublime as what I’ve come to expect from 19th Century novels. To be fair, prior to starting Little Women, I’d just finished reading Charles Dickens’ Nicholas Nickleby, so it had big shoes to fill, so to speak.

And sometimes while reading Little Women, I found myself itching to read something by the ever eloquent and witty Jane Austen. This is still under consideration, but presently I need to focus more on finishing my current Book Club selection: The Plague by Albert Camus (chosen since it is quite apropos to the current times).

Back to the subject of this post… I do want to add that I appreciate that each of the characters had flaws — the March sisters as well as the men they married. There was no knight in shining armour to carry anyone off into the sunset. Indeed, no knights at all, but ordinary fellows whose conscientiousness and righteousness are enough to commend them.

I suppose the overall lesson or message that I got from Little Women was to make the most of what you have, and to always remember what is really important in life. Good reminders, I suppose, whatever form they are presented.

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